Florida shows its appreciation of teachers by… ranking 50th for salaries

It makes perfect sense that Teacher Appreciation Day falls in May, tucked toward the end of the school year. At this point in the academic cycle, teachers had to switch to stronger deodorant and download meditation apps. A Starbucks gift card from a grateful student could stave off the cuckoo’s visit to Cocoa Puffs long enough to reach summer vacation.

The teachers need appreciation! Imagine you are an educator in Florida and see the latest news about your profession, yes, your calling:

Florida has fallen to 50th in the nation when it comes to average teacher salary, according to an April report from the National Education Association. Last year we managed to sink even further from 48th place. Hey, we’re not the biggest loser though. With Washington DC in the mix we are… second to last, just ahead of West Virginia. Yes Yes?

These rankings are akin to finishing a 5K as race organizers pack away the orange cones. It is the dreaded participation trophy of salaries, the E of effort for compensation, the “bless their hearts” of merit.

Our place on the teacher salary spectrum is humiliatingly and depressingly appropriate for Florida, where state leaders have tried to win Best Laughingstock in recent years. Between the tango of the book ban, the creepy fixation on sexuality and gender, and the Dickensian salaries, it is simply not surprising that Florida teachers are leaving their jobs in droves or that some students who once hoped to teach have had a change of heart.

Let’s look at dollar signs. The national average for teacher salaries is $69,544, according to the report, reflecting the fact that teachers across the country are underpaid. Florida’s average is $53,098, sad trombone. The state fares better when it comes to average starting salaries, ranking 16th at $47,178. But it is clear that salaries are not keeping pace with career growth and inflation.

Now cover your eyes with scratch-off tickets and homemade lemon bars: Both figures fall below Florida’s living wage of $58,970 for one adult and one child. So says the Economic Policy Institute, but it will apply to anyone who dropped $100 at Publix for a few bags of groceries. We’re not even talking about something exciting like chili chips or bakery cheesecake.

In turn, the Florida Department of Education has dismissed the findings, calling the report “fake,” casting doubt on the validity of the numbers and ridiculing teachers unions as the problem. The state has provided more than $4 billion in pay raises for teachers since Governor Ron DeSantis took office, resulting in an $8,000 raise. However, the Florida Education Association is asking for more. It wants lawmakers to increase funding by $2.5 billion a year for seven years to catch up.

Locally, property taxes close pay gaps, field trips, facility maintenance and more. Voters in Hillsborough and Hernando will have a chance to throw help in the direction of teachers in November. In Pinellas, the school district is considering adding a similar referendum to the ballot, which would renew and expand an existing tax teacher that teachers have relied on for years. Yes, many people are struggling and no, no one likes taxes. But public funding of public education is part of this American deal, and we owe it to teachers and to ourselves.

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Sending mugs of Dove chocolates to class is sweet and can be the difference between heavy metal and soothing ocean sounds on the way home. But raising taxes, supporting unions and denouncing the denial and glib behavior of state leaders means more. Getting rid of the harmfully cute archetype of long-suffering, overworked teachers praised for buying their own supplies and working two jobs means more. Being serious about supporting the professionals who dedicate their wisdom, energy and considerable talents to shaping the next generation will always mean more. Please appreciate that.

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